My whole life I have wanted to belong,
That is something many people crave.
I could tell you about the day I lost myself,
In a class full of chattering children who didn’t know better,
They saw something they never had before,
It’s not their fault; it’s the excitement it elicited.
So, one by one, I watched them, change seats,
In a few minutes, I had seen more than 20 faces,
But they were not interested in my face.
One by one, they took their position
And as I had come to expect, they dropped something.
I had no clue what, and I couldn’t ask either.
I watched them laugh,
I watched them make faces,
Different people, the same faces,
I sat there exposed, and unaware,
They looked and walked away,
Vaginas are not things they saw often,
Some didn’t even know how it looked.
They aren’t things you talked about,
So no one had the words to tell me what was happening.
Maybe I could tell you about the day I forgot to remember,
When I was just a child walking from school,
Worried about nothing other than the absurd long distance I had to cover,
I was glad to be done with the week,
So, I half-walked, half-skipped, and somewhat hopped,
To my first place of relief,
A place that fed me four o’clock tea and fresh mandazis every day,
A house that sheltered me when I needed to take a break from the absurd distance.
The day I forget to remember didn’t have tea,
I walked into it with expectations of relief and left with the burden of a lifetime,
Maybe he took me by the hand and directed me to the bedroom,
Maybe he placed me on the bed and undressed me,
Maybe I was too shocked,
Maybe I didn’t understand what was happening,
I trusted him; he was my blood.
Maybe I just wanted it to end,
And then a voice of relief was heard,
The man who raised my abuser saved me from things I don’t care to remember,
His voice lifted the weight on my body,
And as I tried to go back to the girl I was a few minutes before,
The girl who just wanted a cup of tea and some mandazis,
The girl who was glad to be done with school for the day,
He said something; I don’t remember what,
I don’t really care to.
All I know is that in his last words, mine were lost.
I had a secret I didn’t understand.
If I mentioned my friend’s brother,
That man from a Christian singing family,
You wouldn’t believe me.
The way he walked right to me like he was happy to see me,
How he hugged me longer than he should have,
How he lingered when I asked to be let go,
How he told me to calm down, he wanted to show me something,
And he traced his hands over my breasts,
Those painful little things,
In gladness, he explored as much as he could,
When he was done, he walked away,
I adjusted my clothes and continued to the shop,
I loved the darkness of the night,
How it allowed me to hide from questions I didn’t have answers to.
People have always called me smart,
I believe it.
So, to keep being smart, I did everything I could,
Including walking to a friend’s house to borrow books.
I was a poor girl, with a good brain,
The school I was in, believed it,
But their support could only go a long way.
I needed books,
An absurd collection of revision books,
Today we needed golden tips, the next day, silver ones,
The one after that, we needed something different.
A girl like me had to be smart,
I knew we couldn’t buy all those tips,
That day I needed a science book,
We were learning about reproduction,
He opened the door and asked me to come in,
I had been there before,
His son was my go-to for books,
I knew where they were,
So when he told me my friend wasn’t in,
And that I could help myself,
There was no hesitation.
But he didn’t move from the door,
He placed his frame right next to the opening,
And asked what we were learning,
As I tried to leave, he grabbed me,
My breasts were a size bigger,
And the pain was less,
But the feeling was the same.
The minute he ran his hands through them,
I wanted to run,
But he was big,
And then I remembered, this wouldn’t last,
He would be done in a minute,
So I stood there,
And when he was done,
He moved from the door, and I walked away.
People took what they wanted,
That was something I learnt the hard way,
The conductors at the matatu stage,
The man on the bus who forgot his penis belongs inside his pants,
The one who likes standing even when seats open-up,
The one who would rather get caught for standing in a bus,
Just as long as he gets to rub on someone,
The one on the road who tries to be as subtle as possible,
He walks too close, bumps into you, and then apologizes,
If he is lucky, you will believe it was innocent,
If he is luckier, you will not say anything, even if you know what he did.
It’s the man who keeps adjusting in his seat,
The one who counts on the discomfort of public transport,
Every few minutes, he runs his hands on someone else’s body,
He hopes you are afraid,
Too afraid to say something.
Each of them feeds on fear,
The one that the society instills in us,
The fear of “a woman’s body should be covered.”
That of “you asked for it with the way you were dressed”
My body belonged to my parents,
That is why they always checked to see if I was well-covered,
My body belonged to my husband,
That imaginary man who I haven’t met yet,
That man I might not want anything to do with.
My body belonged to the church,
This body belonged to everyone,
Not me, never me.
If I closed my eyes long enough, I could see it,
Me in bed with an older boy,
Him exploring my body,
Me waiting for him to be done,
Whatever he was doing didn’t interest me,
I was there willingly, because it was time,
My friends told stories of their first time,
They were excited,
I just wanted to be done with it,
To ease the burden,
I already had enough on my plate when it came to this body,
I didn’t need more.
Today’s air feels different,
Maybe it’s the way it fills every part of me,
How it heals places I didn’t know I was broken,
How it reminds me that I belong,
In this skin, this body,
This skin that I have wanted to crawl out of many times before,
Maybe it’s how this body belongs to me now.
Maybe it’s the freedom to decide what I want to do with it,
How to enjoy it,
Who to share it with.
How to dress it,
How to love it,
How to care for it.
This skin, my skin.